His boys were loading up the portable alley when Calvin Kendall checked the time.
“You all might as well head home; it’s 4:30,” he said, turning to his day workers. “The boys can grab the horses and I’ll take this.”
Calvin Kendall stands in the pasture in a pair of stovepipe boots, with Cowboy Cut Wrangler jeans tucked into the tops. He wears a cotton duck, tan ranch jacket and tops it off with a silverbelly cowboy hat. His sons, Cody, 22, and Caden, 21, have a similar look about them, though their hats are black.
The three have each worked at Beachner Bros. Livestock since they were in their teens, and when they returned from Amarillo, Texas in November, they got right back to work.
The boys loaded the horses into a white trailer and pulled out of the pasture toward home. On the trailer’s side, a decal read “2018 WRCA World Champion.”
The Beachner Bros. Livestock ranch rodeo team defeated 21 other teams of working cowboys to win the 23rd World Championship Ranch Rodeo in Amarillo, Texas. In fact, teams of Kansas Cowboys took home nearly every award at the Working Ranch Cowboys Association world finals — first, second and fourth places, top and reserve top hand, top and reserve top horse and average wins in four of five events.
Kansas teams also broke and tied arena records — serving as the WRCA world records — and had seven qualified teams present at the WCRR, second only to Texas.
WRCA Association Manager Leman Wall said Kansas has always been well represented at the finals, and often successful.
“The first thing you want to consider is the way teams qualify for the finals is by winning one of our sanctioned rodeos throughout the season,” Wall said. “The number of sanctioned rodeos held in Kansas give more Kansas ranches an opportunity to qualify.”
Kansas is home to four of the WRCA’s 22 sanctioned rodeos — second again to only Texas — and being centrally located, teams from Kansas often travel to Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska and more states to compete in rodeos.
Wall said the heightened number of rodeos attended by Kansas ranch teams should not take away from their prowess, though.
“The number of ranches that participate in ranch rodeo in Kansas is also very strong,” he said. “And those ranches are also very competitive and talented. That’s reflected not only in the number of teams placing at this finals but in the top hand and top horse awards. It shows you that the guys from Kansas are riding good horses and are talented themselves.”
Working Ranch Cowboys
The mid-November morning was still cool and misty when the three Kendalls, Toby Cutshaw and two day workers, Blake Tucker and Levi Spilman, swung onto their horses. They rounded up 210 head of cows — plus their calves — from several pastures in southern Allen County, Kansas, and spent the day morning the calves off for weaning. Around lunchtime, the local veterinarian arrived to preg-check the cows.
Calvin Kendall has been around cattle since he was young -- gathering, sorting and loading out cattle was just another day for him.
His uncle worked for Beachner Bros. on the livestock part of their operation when Calvin was young, and Calvin started working at the Beachner grain elevator part time when he was 14. When he was older, he headed for Nebraska.
“I grew up around livestock my whole life, nothing big, that’s why I wanted to move to Nebraska when I did,” he said. “I wanted to be on a big ranch. I was just itching to do it, and I’m glad I did.”
Eventually, he returned to Kansas and to Beachner Bros., this time working on the livestock side. Now he manages the cow/calf side of the operation, as well as overseeing the shipping of all cattle to the Beachner feedlot.
Beachner Bros. Livestock was established in 1960 by brothers Corky, Jerry, Bob and Bill and headquartered in St. Paul, Kansas. The ranch began with the cow/calf operation that remains today, currently running around 2,100 head of cows. The ranch also buys stocker calves year round, tended to by another team of cowboys.
When Calvin returned to Kansas, he also started competing in ranch rodeos with Kansas cowboys. He rode for a while with Cliff Hall — who’s team placed fourth at this year’s world finals — and they finished second at the finals in 2010.
To be a member of the WRCA, competitors must prove they make their living as a ranch cowboy — hence the association’s name. As his two boys got older and began developing their skills, the Kendall’s began competing together as the Beachner team. They’ve qualified for the finals off and on ever since but never placed within the top four with their current team until this year.
“It still hasn’t really hit me. It just blows my mind I guess,” Calvin said. “I’ve always told those kids, you know, they get kind of discouraged, but like I tell them: You guys are very young to be competing against guys that are quite a bit older than you, that have done this for a long time and competed in a lot of rodeos.”
Cowboying is in his sons’ blood. They’ve been around it since they were children, working summers and weekends with their dad when they weren’t in school. Cody set off to Panhandle State University after high school to major in animal science, and has worked for Beachner Bros. full-time since coming back. Caden is currently majoring in management information systems at Kansas State University but works at the ranch any chance he gets.
The team’s fourth member, Ty Swiler, has also worked for Beachners since he turned 18. Swiler’s father, Bob, also worked at Beachner Bros.
“Calvin and my dad have been friends for a long time, and his boys are just a few years younger than me, so we’ve always hung out,” Swiler said. “I started working for Beachner Bros. when I turned 18 in January 2013 and started rodeoing with them that year as well.”
Sticking to the basics
The WRCA World Championship Ranch rodeo takes place over four days with two rounds of five events — Team Penning, Stray Gathering, Wild Cow Milking, Team Branding and Ranch Bronc Riding. Teams are scored out of 10 in each event, with first receiving 10 points and on down. Failure to complete the event, or a “no time,” earns a team zero points.
Teams also gain extra points for winning the average, or best average score in a single event over the four days. The Beachner team won the average in both the team penning and wild cow milking events.
Calvin Kendall said consistency is the key, often more important than speed, even though events are timed. If a team wins one or two events but earns zero points in others for no times, they may be beaten by a team with a score in every event.
He praised the consistency of his three teammates, remembering in 2012 when Cody was their number one roper at 16 years old.
“The kid’s consistent. One time we went, you know it’s two full rounds, and he never missed a loop the whole time we were there,” Calvin said of Cody. “And I think this time he may have missed one heel loop in the stray gathering, but other than that, he was on. All three of those boys. They ain’t real fast, but they’re consistent.”
Top Hands and Horses
The rodeo judges took note of the team’s consistency, especially of Swiler.
Swiler was award Reserve Top Hand for the entire finals rodeo. The Top Hand award goes to the cowboy who was the most helpful to his team's performance — essentially the ranch rodeo MVP — and Reserve Top Hand goes to the runner-up.
The team also received the Top American Quarter Horse and Top WCRR Horse awards for Little Tee J Paul, ridden at the finals by Cody Kendall. Judges score horses on their working skills as well for the award.
Haywire Cattle Co., another Kansas team, took home the Top Hand and Reserve Top WCRR Horse awards.
A Cowboy Culture
The Beachner Team wasn’t alone at the top, along with their awards, Haywire placed second overall. The Butler County-based team also won the average in two events, ranch bronc riding and team branding. They tied the arena record in the former.
The combined team of Broken H and Hebb ranches, based in Bronson, Kansas and Fall River, Kansas, placed fourth. Lonesome Pine, of Cedar Point, Kansas, set their second arena record at the finals in Team Penning. In 2015 they set the record in the wild cow milking and won the finals.
Teams from Minneapolis, Redfield and Cottonwood Falls, Kansas also qualified and competed at the WRCA finals.
“The ag industry in Kansas is very strong, and that plays a role,” Wall said. “There’s a lot of cattle on grass, and when you have that many head spread out, you have to have good hands to take care of them.”
The world champion stock trailer the Beachner team won took as much of a break as the team did once they left Amarillo. The Kendalls were back to work, with the trailer in tow, and Swiler was spending time in Colorado sharpening his skills in horse training.
Maybe next year they’ll try to win the whole thing again, but until then they’ll be practicing, doing what they do every day.